A Year Down Yonder Summary
The Great Depression is winding down, and fifteen-year-old Mary Alice Dowdel's parents are in dire financial straits. That's why she has no choice but to go and stay with her grandmother in small-town Illinois, a place that feels pretty far away from bustling Chicago. When she gets to the little town, Grandma Dowdel takes her directly to the school…no time for pleasantries.
There's a girl named Mildred in her class who immediately tries to hustle a dollar out of Mary Alice because she assumes that city girls are rich. She follows Mary Alice home, determined to get that money, and Grandma Dowdel helps a girl out. She releases Mildred's horse so that the girl has to walk five miles home in the dark. That's what bullies get when they mess with Mrs. Dowdel's granddaughter!
Sounds like this is going to be a long year.
Later on, when Halloween rolls around, gangs of teenage boys roam through town carrying out pranks that include blowing up privies and messing up porches. Instead of fretting over the shenanigans, Grandma Dowdel goes on the offensive. She lies in wait during the night with a trip line, and when the boys do show up, she attacks them—pouring a whole pan of homemade glue over one unfortunate troublemaker's head.
Grandma also decides to bake pies for the Halloween party, which means sneaking into their neighbors' backyards in the middle of the night and making away with cartfuls of pecans and pumpkins. When the party comes along, everyone is pleased to see the huge stack of pies that Grandma and Mary Alice have brought—because after all, they're pretty hungry.
Over Thanksgiving, Mary Alice accompanies Grandma Dowdel to a turkey shoot-out that's held in order to raise money to help Mrs. Abernathy care for her disabled son, who was injured in WWI.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Mary Alice learns that she's been chosen to play the Virgin Mary in the school nativity play—much to the anger of the other girls, like the popular and pretty Carleen Lovejoy.
Mary Alice also starts going along with Grandma when she traps foxes in the middle of the night, and later learns that her grandmother does this so she can afford tickets for Mary Alice's brother, Joey, to visit—and for the two siblings to go home and spend some time with their parents over the holidays.
Getting to spend some quality time with family (and visit Chicago) helps to make the time go by a bit faster for Mary Alice. In fact, the next thing we know, it's February.
In February, Mrs. Weidenbach asks Grandma Dowdel to make cherry tarts for the George Washington's Birthday tea party and Grandma says yes…as long as the tea is held at her house. During the event, Mrs. Effie Wilcox—Grandma's best friend—comes over, and is delighted to find out that Mrs. Weidenbach is her long lost sister. Mrs. Weidenbach, on the other hand, is horrified.
Then an artist from New York City named Arnold Green comes to town looking for a place to board, and Grandma Dowdel immediately takes him in because he's willing to pay a pretty penny.
Mary Alice works up the nerve to ask the cute new boy at school—Royce McNabb—over one Sunday with the excuse that she needs extra tutoring in math. When the day comes, Mary Alice and Royce are interrupted by a bunch of screaming and banging upstairs…and then the postmistress, Maxine Patch, runs downstairs naked except for a large snake that's wrapped around her.
It turns out that Arnold Green was painting her in the nude, and the snake that lives in Grandma's attic fell onto her. After that, Royce leaves and Mary Alice is pretty sure he'll never want to talk to her again.
Then as the school year comes to a close, Mary Alice is at school one day and the tornado siren goes on. The other students rush to shelter, but Mary Alice runs all the way home because she wants to make sure that her grandmother is safe.
They ride out the tornado (along with Bootsie the cat and her kitten, April), and afterwards Grandma goes to check on some of the townspeople—including an awfully rude man named Old Man Nyquist who doesn't even thank her for saving him. She also checks on Effie Wilcox, whom she cares about even though they seem to get on each other's last nerves.
Graduation rolls around and Royce McNabb is going off to college at the University of Illinois, while Mary Alice still has another year of school to get through. At the all-school party, Royce asks Mary Alice if he can write to her when he's in college, and of course she says yes. (Swoon.)
Then she goes home and tells her grandmother that even though her parents have gotten a bigger apartment, she wants to stay here. But Grandma Dowdel can see that Mary Alice is just trying to take care of her, and so she sends her back to Chicago with April the kitten—and says that she can visit whenever she wants.
At the end of the book, the story fast-forwards a few years to WWII. Mary Alice is now living in Chicago and working as a journalist while her brother Joey is fighting in Europe. Her parents have moved to Seattle. The book reveals—without much warning—that Mary Alice is getting married to Royce.
When the time comes for her to marry Royce McNabb, the only family around is her Grandma Dowdel. They get married right there in Grandma Dowdel's house, and Mary Alice's grandmother gives her away in marriage.
It looks like all that letter-writing really did pay off.
- The narrator—Mary Alice Dowdel—is going to stay with her Grandma Dowdel in a small town because her parents don't have enough money for a bigger apartment that can fit the whole family (Mary Alice, her brother Joey, and their parents).
- She has lived in Chicago her whole life, and is a teenager now. So she's super bummed to be going to the country, but the Great Depression and the recession of 1937 have really put her family in a tough spot.
- Mary Alice's big brother, Joey, isn't going with her because he's a boy and has gotten a position with the Civilian Conservation Corps to plant trees out west.
Rich Chicago Girl
- Mary Alice takes the train to her Grandma Dowdel's town with her trunk of belongings and her cat Bootsie in tow.
- Grandma Dowdel is at the station waiting for her, and they start to walk. As they go, Mary Alice observes the tiny town and how the few businesses open look like they're hurting from the recession.
- Mary Alice figures they're going back to Grandma's house and is startled to find that she's being taken to the school so that she can register. Sheesh. Can't a girl even see her bedroom first?
- Grandma takes Mary Alice into the basement of the school and introduces her to a man who is cleaning up down there. Mary Alice is so embarrassed…is Grandma really trying to enroll her in school by talking to the janitor?
- But because times are tough, it turns out that the man sweeping up is actually the principal—Mr. Fluke. He's taken on quite a few rolls since the recession hit.
- Mr. Fluke says that Mary Alice will be a junior here, and sends her to Miss Butler's classroom, where all the other students are sitting in old-fashioned school desks. They all turn to look at Mary Alice, and she feels some classic new girl anxiety.
- When she sits down next to a girl named Mildred Burdick, she gets a serious glare and can tell she's not welcome here.
- Mildred makes a fist under the desk to intimidate Mary Alice and calls her a "rich Chicago girl." Mary Alice retorts that if she were rich, she wouldn't have to be here right now—her parents could have kept her at home.
- Then Mildred tells Mary Alice to give her a dollar, which Mary Alice definitely does not have on her. Another girl in class, Ina-Rae Gage, whispers that Mary Alice should just listen to Mildred because she's a scary bully. She already stole and ate Ina-Rae's lunch.
- After school, Mildred doesn't let up. She gets on her big horse (seriously—she rides a big horse) and follows Mary Alice on her walk home, much to Mary Alice's horror.
- When they reach the house, Grandma is standing on the porch as though she's waiting for them. She listens calmly as Mary Alice explains how Mildred is shaking her down for a dollar.
- Grandma tells Mildred to tie up her horse outside, to take off her boots, and to come inside so that they can discuss the matter of this dollar.
- When they sit down, Grandma sets down some food and makes conversation about Mildred's family—filling Mary Alice in about how Mildred's father is a horse thief and is in jail right now.
- As Mildred is busy eating, Grandma slips outside for a moment and Mary Alice knows that she must be up to something.
- But then she comes back and tells Mildred that she better get going—because she has a whole five miles travel in order to get home.
- Mildred jumps up and realizes that her horse is gone because Grandma had untied it. And her boots have disappeared, too!
- When Mildred goes running away from the house, Mary Alice tells Grandma that now she's going to get beat up at school.
- But Grandma Dowdel sets her straight. Mildred won't be coming back to school because she won't have a horse to ride on anymore—since the horse actually belonged to another family and was stolen.
- Then Mary Alice asks Grandma where Bootsie—the cat she brought all the way from Chicago—has gone. When Grandma tells her that the cat is out in the cobhouse, Mary Alice worries that she'll run away.
- But Grandma assures her that she's thought of everything—she buttered Bootsie's paws, which the cat will spend a while licking off. By the time she's done, she'll obviously feel at home here. You can't argue with logic like that…can you?
Vittles and Vengeance
- In Grandma Dowdel's little town, people take Halloween seriously. There are all sorts of hijinks going on—including pranks and vandalism.
- But what the boys who carried out all the pranks don't seem to remember from one year to the next is that Grandma Dowdel isn't just a little old lady sitting alone and helpless in her house; she's a big fan of Halloween too.
- When the community party rolls around, Grandma Dowdel reminds Mary Alice that if they're bobbing for apples, she should bring some home so that they can bake them with brown sugar. These are hard times, after all.
- The notice for the community party also asks people to bring food—which means that there are sure to be attendees. There are always people present whenever free food is involved.
- Grandma reads that and tells Mary Alice that they're going to be busy baking pumpkin and pecan pies.
- After dinner one night, Mary Alice goes outside to find Bootsie and hears a clank and crying. She finds Bootsie with a tin can tied to her tail—poor thing! The pranks have begun.
- When Mary Alice returns to the house, Grandma is stirring something that smells awful. She tells Mary Alice that it's glue, and then asks her to get some tools. Mary Alice knows better than to ask what's going on.
- Grandma goes out to the cobhouse and puts down stakes, then winds wire between them. She tells Mary Alice to get inside the cobhouse and wait with her.
- They sit there for a while before they hear the sounds of some teenage boys approaching. The boy in the lead doesn't see the wire.
- When he gets close to the cobhouse, he falls over the wire and flat onto his nose. Grandma runs out with her pan of glue and pours it all over him. Of course, the commotion freaks out all the other boys and they drop all their stuff and run off.
- Score! Grandma founds that they've left a nice knife behind, a handsaw, and even some flour (which they planned to throw over the house and the cat). She's mighty pleased—this means that they have more flour for their pie-baking plans.
- The next day at school, there are a lot of the boys from town absent. When Mary Alice returns to the house, Grandma Dowdel tells her that they're going to pay a visit to Old Man Nyquist's place.
- Apparently, Old Man Nyquist is a retired farmer who has a big pecan tree in his yard, and he said that Grandma could have as many fallen pecans as she wanted for her pies.
- Of course, there aren't that many pecans on the ground. So eventually, Grandma Dowdel spots a tractor sitting to the side and gets on it. Before Mary Alice can stop her, she rams the tractor right into the tree so that it starts raining pecans.
- Thankfully, Old Man Nyquist doesn't wake up, and they manage to squirrel away two whole sacks full of pecans for their pies. Next up, Grandma announces that they're going to find some pumpkins.
- They go to another neighbor's yard and Grandma Dowdel quickly cuts free three big pumpkins and places them on the cart. With that, their work is done and they can return home to start baking.
- After a full day of baking, they have a wagonload of some pretty good-looking pies. When Mary Alice gets ready for the party, Grandma Dowdel hovers and decides to come along too…which is to be expected. She's not one to miss the reaction that her pies will surely inspire.
- When they arrive, the party is looking pretty sad—especially the snack table. People haven't brought much by way of goodies. They all perk up when they see Grandma and Mary Alice arriving with all of those delicious pies.
- Everyone starts lining up to get a piece of the pie for themselves, even the grown-ups. So many people look skinny and underfed, and they're obviously excited to get some real food in them.
- When Mr. Fluke, the principal, comes up with his son Augie, Mary Alice is shocked to see that Augie's head is bald and that his nose is all bandaged up. She suspects that she knows how that happened…
- Grandma does too, and she takes out Augie's knife (which he had dropped) and uses it to cut a slice of pie while watching him.
- Mr. Fluke sees the knife and puts two and two together, and starts yelling at his son for pranking Grandma's house.
- In the end, they manage to feed a whole lot of people and make the town happy. And they even go home with some apples to bake with brown sugar.
A Minute in the Morning
- Mary Alice can't get comfortable in her room at Grandma's house, which is super dark, has an uncomfortable mattress, and is so very quiet compared to the city. Plus, her brother Joey is no longer next door to keep her company like when they were kids.
- But she does have her radio, and she listens to it before falling asleep every night. She likes keeping her eyes closed as she listens to the music.
- It's also hard to sleep sometimes because it's gotten so cold here, but Grandma Dowdel doesn't seem to think it's all that bad.
- One morning, Grandma Dowdel wakes Mary Alice up super early even though it's not a school day. She tells Mary Alice that they have plans for Armistice Day.
- Grandma says they're going to the turkey shoot-out, which is a tradition in town where the men and boys use air rifles to shoot at paper turkeys to see who is the best shot.
- In the yard there's a big pot of "burgoo," which is a stew made from whatever is around. There's all sorts of meat and vegetables inside, based on what people have brought to add to it.
- Augie—the boy that Grandma poured glue on over Halloween—gets ready to shoot but is distracted by a rabbit running across the field. He tries to shoot at it instead…and ends up hitting a big black Buick parked nearby and flattening its tire. Uh-oh, he's in trouble now!
- At eleven o'clock, they all observe a moment of silence for the moment when the armistice of World War I was signed. Grandma Dowdel takes it really seriously.
- Then it's lunchtime and Grandma Dowdel takes over collecting the money for the burgoo. It's supposed to be a dime for each mug, but she doesn't observe this pricing. Instead, she collects way more money from the rich—like Mr. Weidenbach, the banker—and doesn't take anything from the poor and hungry.
- The money raised is to help Mrs. Abernathy, who is dumbstruck when she sees just how much Grandma Dowdel has managed to collect.
- Then Grandma Dowdel asks how Mrs. Abernathy's son is, and they go upstairs to see him. He's disabled and blind from having served in the war and being gassed up in the trenches. Mary Alice realizes that this is why they hold the turkey shoot-out on Armistice Day—to raise money for an actual war veteran.
- On their way home, they pass by an advertisement for soap that shows Kate Smith—a popular singer. Grandma Dowdel is pleased to see that Kate is a big, full-figured woman…just like her.
Away in a Manger
- In Home Ec class at school, the girls are tasked with crocheting used bottle caps together to make hot pads for their loved ones.
- Mary Alice gives Ina-Rae, the only girl who's friendly to her, her hot pad because Ina-Rae's didn't turn out so well. She's glad that at least Ina-Rae is nice to her—since all the other girls are still giving her the cold shoulder.
- The one thing that works in Mary Alice's favor is that she doesn't dress like a rich city girl. In fact, the best dressed person in school is a girl named Carleen, who has all sorts of fancy things like silk stockings.
- For the Christmas nativity play, the teacher chooses Mary Alice to be the Virgin Mary. This really gets Carleen's goat, and Mary Alice is determined to do it right—and to make herself a proper costume.
- When Mary Alice gets home one day, she finds that Grandma Dowdel has been out in all of her warmest clothes doing something—but she won't say what. Grandma is always mysterious like that.
- Later, when Mary Alice is getting ready to go to bed, Grandma Dowdel tells her to get dressed to go out with her. It turns out that Grandma's been setting traps and killing foxes for their furs. This lady is nothing if not unpredictable.
- Over the next few weeks, Mary Alice often goes out at night to help Grandma, even though she hates the sound of the foxes screaming when they get caught in the trap. (She's not particularly fond of the smell of the fox urine they use as a lure, either, but hey, girls committing crimes with their grandmas can't be choosers.)
- Meanwhile, the nativity play practice is carrying on, and Mary Alice feels shabby in her robes made out of old bedsheets—especially next to Carleen, who's playing an angel and has an actual satin gown.
- One day, Mary Alice comes home and sees that Grandma Dowdel is looking at a Sears catalog. She tells Mary Alice to pick out a pair of boots for Christmas, and they send in the order form.
- On the night of the nativity play, Mary Alice gets ready—wearing her new shoes and her old plaid coat, which feels new again because Grandma has sewn real fox fur cuffs onto it.
- For the most part, Grandma has been acting like she doesn't care about Mary Alice's big moment, but then she pulls out a halo that she made from pieces of tin cut into tiny stars. It obviously took her a long time to make.
- When Mary Alice gets there, Carleen is all decked out in her finery with make-up on to boot. But Miss Butler, their teacher, makes her wipe off all the make-up.
- During the nativity play, something quite unexpected happens. Mary Alice goes to pick up the baby Jesus doll, and instead finds a real live baby. What in the world?
- The baby has one blue eye and one green eye, so Grandma Dowdel knows that it belongs to one of the Burdicks right away. This also explains why Mildred Burdick never came back to school after bullying Mary Alice: she was pregnant. Dun dun dun.
- But the craziest (and most exciting) thing that happens is that Mary Alice's brother Joey shows up as a Christmas surprise. Turns out Grandma sent him a plane ticket, bought with all the money she earned from her fox furs.
- What's more, Grandma has bought Mary Alice a round-trip ticket to Chicago so that she and Joey can go and spend some time with their parents.
- But first, the three of them go back to Grandma's house to celebrate a magical Christmas together.
Hearts and Flour
- One day, Mrs. Weidenbach, the banker's wife, comes over to ask Grandma Dowdel for a favor. It turns out that the woman who was supposed to make cherry tarts for the George Washington's Birthday tea is suffering terribly from menopause.
- She begs Grandma to bake the tarts this year, flattering her with kind words about her pumpkin and pecan pies. But Grandma Dowdel is unmoved and doesn't commit to anything.
- At school, the girls are all talking about whether or not there will be a Valentine's Day exchange this year. Mary Alice is a bit surprised by this—they're not little kids anymore, after all. They're in high school.
- But then the principal, Mr. Fluke, comes into the classroom with a new boy. He's a hottie, and all the other students go silent as Mr. Fluke introduces him as Royce McNabb.
- Carleen immediately turns to all the other girls and tells them that he's hers. No crushing allowed.
- When Mary Alice gets home, she casually mentions the new boy to her grandmother, who immediately picks up on the subtext and asks Mary Alice if she's starting to show romantic interest in boys.
- Mary Alice asks, "Who, me?" and is saved from having to answer further by the arrival of Mrs. Weidenbach, who shakes a newspaper in front of Grandma Dowdel. Apparently, the local paper is publishing anonymous poems on how there won't be any cherry tarts for George Washington's Birthday tea.
- Grandma Dowdel says that she will agree to bake those tarts, but only on one condition: the tea has to be held at her house. Mrs. Weidenbach tries to protest, but in the end she has to cave.
- At school on Valentine's Day, all of the girls go to check their valentines. Carleen is miffed because she only has one—from Miss Butler, their teacher.
- When Ina-Rae checks her box, though, she's got all sorts of valentines sent by different boys. She even has one from Royce, the new boy.
- Carleen is watching all of this unfold and simply cannot take it. She calls Ina-Rae a "trashy little squirt" (scandalous!) and promptly gets punished by the teacher.
- At lunchtime, the girls go to the basketball court to watch Royce play. Ina-Rae thanks Mary Alice for writing all of those fake valentines; they were both in on the prank to drive Carleen crazy with jealousy.
- On George Washington's birthday, Grandma Dowdel comes downstairs and shocks Mary Alice with her appearance. She's all dressed up—and Mary Alice finds herself tearing up as she tells Grandma how beautiful she looks.
- It's not just the usual ladies who show up to Mrs. Weidenbach's events who are there, though. Grandma's friend Effie Wilcox has arrived, as well as an old lady named Aunt Mae who looks absolutely ancient.
- When all of the ladies arrive for the tea, they discuss how proud they are to be able to trace their ancestors back to the American Revolution.
- Aunt Mae takes one look at Mrs. Weidenbach and calls her a liar—saying that Mrs. Weidenbach was actually a Burdick, which is why she has one green and one blue eye (just like the baby in the manger).
- She says that two of the Burdicks were taken away and put in separate foster homes—and that one of them was Mrs. Weidenbach, and the other was Effie Wilcox. Effie gets all excited to call Mrs. Weidenbach her long-lost sister.
- Following that revelation, all the ladies get drunk. Mrs. Weidenbach bursts into tears and refuses to talk to Effie, as do the rest of the DAR ladies. Eventually, they all leave, none of them able to walk in a straight line.
- On her way out the door, Effie wonders aloud if Mrs. Weidenbach is just too overcome with emotion at having discovered her long-lost sister, and Grandma Dowdel says that must be the case.
- Then Grandma, Aunt Mae, and Mary Alice finish off all the cherry tarts. And Mary Alice goes to write a little news story for the local paper about the tea. She's been their anonymous new reporter all along.
A Dangerous Man
- Mary Alice turns sixteen that spring, and her parents send her a dollar for her birthday—which is an awful lot of money, especially considering how poor they are.
- Bootsie the cat has taken to life in the country, and spends most of her time in the cobhouse. Every once in a while, she'll pop by to say hello to Mary Alice, but she never stays.
- She even gives birth and brings the kitten to show Mary Alice one day, but then takes it back out to the cobhouse. She's an independent country kitty now.
- One hot day, Grandma and Mary Alice do their laundry outside and hang it up to dry. They also decide to wash their hair.
- A strange man appears down the road and tells Grandma Dowdel that he's looking for a room to rent. He's here with the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a government program designed to give people jobs when they're hard-up—and he's been sent to paint a mural in the post office.
- Because no one else in town has offered him a room, Grandma Dowdel charges him a super steep rate of $2.50 a day, and he has to agree to it.
- The man's name is Arnold Green and he's an artist from New York. Grandma rents him one of the rooms, and even lets him use the attic as a studio where he can work on his real art.
- Grandma Dowdel asks Arnold if he's married and if he'd ever think about settling down in these parts. He's kind of horrified by the suggestion, since he's from cosmopolitan New York City and all.
- When Mary Alice tells her not to tease Arnold about his personal life, Grandma says she's just giving him fair warning, since the postmistress, Maxine Patch, has her eye on him.
- Meanwhile at school, Mary Alice isn't doing too well in math class. But she knows that Royce McNabb is a math whiz—and super cute—so she decides to ask him to tutor her. Two birds, one stone.
- When she tells Grandma Dowdel about this plan, Grandma sees right through it and so Mary Alice comes clean—admitting that Carleen's claimed Royce, and Mary Alice wants to make her move first. Grandma totally approves of this.
- Mary Alice invites Royce to come over on Sunday afternoon, because that's when Grandma Dowdel usually takes a long nap. She begs her grandmother not to do anything too crazy while Royce is there.
- On Sunday, Grandma Dowdel is sleeping upstairs and snoring loudly, and Mary Alice waits nervously for Royce to show up.
- He comes in, and they sit down and awkwardly talk about fractions while sipping lemonade. Ah, teenage crushes.
- Royce says that they have something in common—that they're both from out of town, which makes them outsiders. Mary Alice tries to think of a reply to this, but her thoughts are broken by a loud scream upstairs. What's going on?
- Grandma Dowdel gallops into the room with her shotgun, demanding to know where the scream is coming from. They hear more screaming and crashing, and realize that it's coming from directly overhead, in Arnold's room.
- Then Maxine Patch—the postmistress—comes running down the stairs with a huge snake wrapped around her and, um…absolutely no clothing. Mary Alice and Royce are shocked.
- She runs out the door and Grandma Dowdel immediately jumps on the occasion to make a ruckus. She raises her shotgun to the sky before blasting off a few shots.
- This gets everyone's attention, and the neighbors come out of their homes to watch in absolute amazement as a fully nude Maxine Patch goes running down the street.
- When Mary Alice turns to her grandmother and demands to know what was up with that big snake, Grandma just tells her that it lives in the attic and keeps birds out of the roof.
- Then, much to Mary Alice's embarrassment and horror, her crush Royce makes his excuses and leaves the house without so much as a proper goodbye.
- When Arnold comes down from the attic—looking quite dazed—Grandma tells him that she won't have him painting naked ladies up in the attic. She doesn't kick him out though…she's making too much off him in rent.
- Mary Alice is afraid that Royce will shun her at school now, especially since the town is all atwitter with gossip about Maxine Patch. But when he catches her eye across the classroom, he winks.
- A few days later, Grandma tells Mary Alice to invite her English teacher, Miss Butler, over for supper one night. Mary Alice is surprised by this; Grandma has never invited one of her teachers over before. She doesn't want to do it, but Grandma insists, so Mary Alice extends the invitation.
- Miss Butler comes over, and Mary Alice is appalled to find that Grandma has invited Arnold down to eat with them too—even though Miss Butler is a nice prim lady, and Arnold is an artist who is being gossiped about by all the townspeople.
- They get talking about art and literature, and sparks fly. Over the next few weeks, Arnold spends much of his free time with Miss Butler talking about art and other common interests. How did Grandma know that they'd get on so well?
- As for Mary Alice, she finds that although she and Royce are friendly, they keep their distance from each other…at least for now.
Gone with the Wind
- The year comes to a close with graduation looming on the horizon for five students, four older girls and, of course, Royce. At school, all the students are involved in planning the all-school party.
- Things are a-changing, and even Miss Butler is now wearing a tiny engagement ring that she got from Arnold.
- In the middle of what starts out as a perfectly normal, sunny school day, the tornado siren goes off. The students are shuffled down to the basement. Instead of following everyone, Mary Alice breaks loose and runs home because she wants to make sure that Grandma is all right.
- By the time she gets back to the house, rain is pouring down. Grandma takes one look at her and tells her to go to the southwest corner of the house, which is where the cellar is located.
- Grandma enters the cellar too, bringing Bootsie and the kitten. They sit and wait, and then hear the deafening sound of the wind whooshing and the tacks coming out of the tar paper on the roof. All they can do is duck down and wait for it to pass.
- As soon as the storm blows over, Grandma and Mary Alice leave the house with tools and gloves in tow. Walking around, they can see that lots of trees have fallen over, chimney bricks are lying around, and other people are just starting to come out of their own homes.
- They make their way to Old Man Nyquist's house, which isn't looking too great. They can see through the roof, the porch is gone, and when they enter, they find Nyquist stuck underneath his bedstead.
- Using a crowbar, they get him unstuck, but Old Man Nyquist is far from grateful. The entire time, he and Grandma yell insults at each other.
- As they leave, Mary Alice remarks on how mean Nyquist is, but Grandma just says that no one else would come near enough to help him—which is why they did it.
- They go to check on Mrs. Wilcox's house, which looks okay. But when they see that the privy's blown away, Grandma gets worried.
- Just then, Mrs. Wilcox shows up. Turns out she was pretty nervous during the tornado and she really needed to "go," but her privy was already gone. So she went over and used Grandma's.
- Grandma and Mary Alice head home, and Mary Alice asks Grandma if she and Mrs. Wilcox are besties. Grandma says that they're just neighbors. Mmm-hmm. Mary Alice is pretty sure she knows better.
- After the tornado, Grandma becomes obsessed with cleaning up the house, even though there's only her and Mary Alice living there. Arnold's gone back to New York City to wait for Miss Butler to join him.
- Then graduation rolls around, and Royce is named valedictorian. He also gets a scholarship to the University of Illinois at Champaign, which is super exciting.
- At the all-school party, Mary Alice and Royce get a moment to themselves for the first time since that disastrous math tutoring date. Royce asks Mary Alice if he can write to her while he's in college, and she promises to write back. Sweet.
- When Mary Alice gets home that night, she tells her Grandma that she wants to stay, even though her parents have just written. Her father's gotten a job and they have an apartment that's big enough to accommodate Mary Alice now…but Mary Alice worries about her grandmother.
- Grandma immediately says that she can't stay, and that she needs to rent out Mary Alice's room. Of course, Mary Alice knows the truth. Her grandmother likes having her here, but she doesn't want Mary Alice to stay out of guilt or worry.
- In the end, Grandma tells Mary Alice to go back to Chicago and to take Bootsie's kitten with her; in the meantime, Grandma will be here with Bootsie. And Mary Alice can come back to visit whenever she wants.
- Mary Alice ends up getting married in Grandma Dowdel's house, in the last year of World War II.
- Because Joey is off serving in the war and their father is working with Boeing in Seattle, Mary Alice's family can't make it to the wedding.
- And because the groom is also serving in the army, he only has three days of leave to spare.
- The whole affair is quite simple and spare, because of the war. Mary Alice saves up her ration cards to buy a new pair of shoes and a suit, and Grandma Dowdel makes her bouquet and bakes a wedding cake.
- And when the time comes, Grandma Dowdel is the one who walks Mary Alice down the aisle and gives her away…and we find out in the second-to-last sentence that we know the groom quite well. It's Royce McNabb!